Of Priors and Particles: Structured and Distributed Approaches to Robot Perception and Control
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Applications of robotic systems have expanded significantly in their scope, moving beyond the caged predictability of industrial automation and towards more open, unstructured environments. These agents must learn to reliably perceive their surroundings, efficiently integrate new information and quickly adapt to dynamic perturbations. To accomplish this, we require solutions which can effectively incorporate prior knowledge while maintaining the generality of learned representations. These systems must also contend with uncertainty in both their perception of the world and in predicting possible future outcomes. Efficient methods for probabilistic inference are then key to realizing robust, adaptive behavior. This thesis will first examine data-driven approaches for learning and combining perceptual models for both visual and tactile sensor modalities, common in robotics. Modern variational inference methods will then be examined in the context of online optimization and stochastic optimal control. Specifically, this thesis will contribute (1) data-driven visual and tactile perceptual models leveraging kinematic and dynamic priors, (2) a framework for joint inference with visuo-tactile sensing, (3) a family of particle-based, variational model predictive control and planning algorithms, and (4) a distributed inference scheme for online model adaptation.